Here’s Andrew Solomon, writing in The New Yorker last year:
The worst mistake anyone can make is to perceive anyone else as lesser. The deeper you look into other souls—and writing is primarily an exercise in doing just that—the clearer people’s inherent dignity becomes.
I’d suggest that the worst mistake you can make is to perceive yourself as lesser.
Self-approval is a weighty opponent to one's psyche. Our society likes to slap labels on how we’re perceived—especially negative ones. And we readily accept these labels. Especially the negative ones.
At this advanced stage of my life, however, I’m just now accepting the fact that I am a whole, a unity of many parts, a soul sustained by a loving God. And I’m learning to compartmentalize the competing components of my complex persona.
This means that when I sin, I am not evil. When I don’t match up to expectations, mine or another's, I am not a loser. When I am betrayed, I am not a victim. I am neither the lesser—nor the better—of anyone else. In fact, I am the only one, save my creator, who comprehends the wholeness of who I am.
I believe, therefore, that my role is not to judge, but to love. Starting with myself.
This isn't a new thought. Two thousand years ago, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I will not pass judgment even on myself.”
Truth be told, I have spent my life trying to please others in order to validate my anxious self. Among them:
- My father, who liked to remind me that I “couldn’t fix a pimple on a mechanic’s ass”
- My bosses at The New York Daily News, IBM and Siemens, who seemed to breath a different oxygen than I did
- My corporate clients, when I operated Executive Media, who sometimes saw me as wait staff instead of partner
Most significant and longest lasting was my wife, whose approval I sought in almost everything I did—personal or business.
In my unfamiliar role as widower, I’m finally recognizing that my wife is no longer here to approve or disapprove. I'm finally beginning to grasp the idea that only I, and my God, can validate the totality of who I am.
There is new freedom in this. Also the chance—and the challenge—to be truly my own.